The Money Maker

When my colleagues Dan and Ava visited my girlfriend and I during our yearly Keweenaw Peninsula retreat, we spent some time rambling the countryside in search of new stuff none of us had checked out before. 


Near Copper City we pulled over to turn around and noticed this old tow truck, evidently once owned by "Krazy Cooter's Towing," which naturally mandated a photo-op:


The next morning I happened to pass through the same area again, and stopped to take a better look at the ruined foundations nearby. As I later found out by doing some quick page-flipping, this was once the site of the Ahmeek Mine's #1 and #2 shafts. You may recall that I explored the impressive ruins of the Ahmeek Stamp Mill in a couple older posts.

Lawrence Molloy's A Guide to Michigan's Historic Keweenaw Copper District says that Copper City was a residential community built for the Ahmeek, Mohawk, and Kearsarge mines. It was not affiliated with any of the mining companies, but was designed by real estate man Edward Ulseth in 1907 because he saw a need to provide more homes for the miners of the area. The Kingston Mine was also right in the same immediate area as the Ahmeek.


Ahmeek Mining Co. was founded in 1880, and according to Molloy they built their mill near here in 1902, at which time the small town of Ahmeek was built up around it. By the way, the name "Ahmeek" comes from the Ojibwe word for "beaver," amik.


This is the hoist and compressor house for the #1 shaft, with the boiler house almost immediately adjacent to it. It seems to have housed the hoists for not only the #1 but also the #2 shaft under the same roof, with the cables leaving opposite sides of the structure.

As usual the concrete foundations were all that remained after the steel structures were reclaimed for scrap decades ago, which meant that detective work would be needed to figure out the specific purpose this particular structure served at the mine. My first guess was that it was an engine or boiler house of some kind, but I was also seeing foundations that looked a lot like hoist footings. Luckily two of my colleagues had already done the detective work for me....


This looks like a flue-way to the base of a smokestack that I'm standing on top of here:


And here is what looks like an old-style stone base for an early smokestack...


...leading me to believe that this was the ruins of a boiler house?

My colleague Mike Forgrave's post on CopperCountryExplorer explains that "Wherever you find the foundation to a steam engine (or three in our case) you are bound to find a boiler house nearby." The Ahmeek Mine was built before the advent of the electric hoist he says, and therefore relied on steam power for everything, which meant that an old stone boiler house ruin was indeed lurking here immediately adjacent to the more modern concrete hoist house ruin.


The Ahmeek Mine's beginnings were rather dismal, as Mike points out. Since they were unsuccessful in extracting profitable copper from the Houghton Conglomerate Lode, work was soon abandoned. He says that another richer lode was discovered on the same property over 20 years later however, the Kearsarge Amygdaloid Lode, and new work resumed with much better results. Productivity was so much better in fact, that the great Calumet & Hecla mining corporation bought up the Ahmeek Mine in 1923, as it had become one of the most productive on the Keweenaw Peninsula.


Mike says that the Ahmeek #2 shaft even acquired a reputation across the Copper Country as the "Money Maker" because it was so reliable, even when compared with some of the other all-star mines such as the Centennial #2Quincy #2Champion #4, and the C&H itself. It set several annual ore production records and "became the most productive single shaft in Copper Country history," according to Mike.


As Mike writes, "The Ahmeek Mine was the savior that C&H had desperately been searching for." The great Calumet & Hecla Mine's own copper productivity began to wane, so they began looking at other smaller mines to see if there was a hot new area they could buy up interest in. The Kearsarge Amygdaloid Lode was that promising new area that filled the bill, so their corporate management began buying out as many mines along this lode as they could–including the Ahmeek Mine.


The reason this foundation is such a vast ruin (as illustrated above) is because it supported a lot of heavy machinery; it functioned as both a hoist house and a compressor house, for two mines. The hoists are what pull the miners and ore up out of the mine, while the compressors provide the pneumatic pressure to run the miners' drills underground.

The Ahmeek #2 turned out to be a stellar investment for C&H, and soon was accounting for the majority of their copper production for the next 40 years, Mike wrote. It even weathered the C&H consolidation and stayed open until the bitter end in the mid-1960s.


The entire Ahmeek Mine consisted of a total of four shafts, and had an elaborate surface plant, including several other split buildings that were shared between the #1 and #2 shafts. Besides the hoist / compressor house here, these included the rockhouse, the boiler plant, and the dryhouse.

The #3 and #4 Ahmeek shafts were located a little ways from here, and anyone who has driven that section of M-26 will recognize the big hoist houses of that complex, now occupied by a woodworking business.


According to my colleague Craig Aldinger, who writes TheCopperCountryMaps blog, the Ahmeek #1 and #2 were originally connected by a 1,440 foot elevated trestle, while the rockhouse was in the middle between the two. The twin hoists were set up back-to-back, whose cables ran close to the ground for most of their run between the hoist houses and headframes...a very unorthodox configuration overall.

In 1915 Craig writes that all production switched over to the Ahmeek #2 while the #1 shaft was abandoned, and they mostly continued using the same layout with few changes. So half of this hoist house was shut down, while the other half was kept in use.


Mike Forgrave says that this big barn-shaped building was the dryhouse for the #1 and #2 shafts, where the miners were able to change clothes and shower in between shifts. There were rows and rows of lockers in here for all of the miners that used to work here back in the heydays. Nowadays the building seems to be used for some kind of industrial storage.


And this is another photo from the same series, which I cannot now remember where I took it at:


Don't you hate it when that happens?


References:
The Copper Empire, Vol. 1, by Mike Forgrave, p. 11, 40
A Guide to Michigan's Historic Keweenaw Copper District, by Lawrence J. Molloy, p. 63, 64
http://www.coppercountryexplorer.com/explorations/mines/ahmeek-mine/
http://www.coppercountryexplorer.com/2008/03/the-boiler-house-next-door/
http://www.coppercountryexplorer.com/2008/03/a-row-of-foundations/
http://thecoppercountrymaps.blogspot.com/2014/10/ahmeek-1-2.html?q=ahmeek

2 comments:

  1. That last photo looks like it's one of the Mohawk rock houses along No. 5 road south of Mohawk. The fallen drop hammer foundation to the left gives it away (for some reason, those were left at the Mohawk rock houses and nowhere else that I've ever seen). Check out the aerial here: http://mapper.acme.com/?ll=47.29903,-88.36795&z=19&t=H&marker0=47.29898%2C-88.36781%2CN%2047.29899%20W%2088.36780

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    1. Ahh, that makes sense, thanks Dave!

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